CHEMICAL SAFETY - introduction

A variety of chemicals are used at the University. Some of these are hazardous, posing a risk of injury or illness if not handled properly. There are two broad types of hazards associated with chemicals.

  1. Health effects - chemicals that have the potential to cause adverse health effects. Exposure can occur through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Health effects can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term). Typical acute health effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting and skin damage while chronic health effects can include asthma, dermatitis, nerve damage or cancer.
  2. Physiochemical effects – physical and chemical properties that pose a risk to workers other than health hazards. For example, chemicals that are explosive, flammable or likely to react dangerously under particular conditions.

Hazardous chemicals

Many chemicals have both health and physiochemical hazards. Manufacturers and suppliers of chemicals are required to determine whether or not a substance is hazardous. They do this by referring to the Global Harmonised System (GHS) of Classifying and Labelling Chemicals. If a chemical or chemical mixture is classified as hazardous it will have relevant hazard statements, precautions and pictograms on the label and safety data sheet.

Dangerous goods

Dangerous goods are substances or articles (not only chemicals) that pose a risk to people, property or the environment due to their physical or chemical properties (e.g. explosive, flammable, toxic, corrosive, environmentally hazardous). Dangerous goods are usually classified with reference to the immediate hazard they pose rather than the health effects.

Dangerous Goods are referred to in the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail and are assigned a dangerous goods class, packing group and UN number. This code is used primarily for the transport and storage of chemicals.

Scheduled poisons

Scheduled poisons are classified in accordance with the Poisons Standard to ensure that there are appropriate access controls for pharmaceuticals and chemicals that might be used domestically. They are classified on the basis of health effects and particular controls are applied in relation to labelling, packaging (eg. childproof lids), dispensing of drugs (eg. pharmacy only, prescription only), and the security and restricted use of illicit drugs and highly toxic substances (eg. cyanides).